With Uttar Pradesh elections weighing heavily on their mind, after the somewhat unexpected drubbing in West Bengal Assembly elections earlier this year, and the setback in Himachal Pradesh bypolls, where price-rise and high oil prices were seen as a major poll issue, the Centre’s decision to reduce excise duty on petrol and diesel is seen as a populist measure to retain the party’s electoral dominance ahead of elections in several states next year.
A day after bypoll results were announced, the Centre on Wednesday announced excise duty cuts on petrol by Rs 5 and diesel by Rs 10. By late Wednesday night, NDA-governed Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Karnataka, Manipur, Tripura, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and announced additional cuts.
On Thursday, Bihar and Odisha governments also announced decision to slash VAT on petrol and diesel.
The announcements are expected to givea moral high ground going into the state elections next year, at a time when it is facing flak from Opposition on price-rise, high fuel rates and farmers’ protests in some north Indian states, among other issues.
Before the fuel price duty and tax cuts, addressing a gathering in Ayodhya on Wednesday, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the state government was extending the Centre’s free ration scheme, announced during the pandemic, until Holi. Although the announcement was overshadowed by the fuel price cut, sources in BJP admitted that it was a “calculated move”, and was part of the party’s strategies for the state elections.BJO
The extended benefits will cover the upcoming Assembly elections, as UP is expected to go to the polls by March, a party leader pointed out.
On Thursday, Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted in Hindi, “The relief given even after prices increased internationally is a very sensitive decision. I thank Modi-ji for this.” Shah said this “Diwali gift” by the Prime Minister to the country would not only bring relief to the common man but also reduce inflation.
Sources in BJP, meanwhile, rejected the criticism that the increasing fuel prices had attributed to its not-so-impressive performance in the October 30 bypolls. “If that were so, we would not have made significant gains in Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana,” a senior party leader said.
Explained: Focus on UP
The defeat in West Bengal earlier this year has made BJP worry about its prospects in Uttar Pradesh, where it needs a big win to brighten its prospects for 2024 General Election. At a time the party is faced with criticism on accounts of farmers’ agitation and fuel prices, populist measures such as the cut in excise on diesel and petrol, and extension of free ration scheme in UP, could help BJP retain its electoral dominance.